This is right. That is wrong. This is up. That is down. Here is black. There is white.
And that is that.
Or so we’re told.
Reality is much more nuanced. Up is only up from a certain point of view. We ought to know that by now, yet It seems like daily I encounter opinions that come from false premises. I keep observing, in entertainment, in social media arguments, in my own experiences, a dangerous way of thinking. It seems as if thinking in False Dichotomies has been ingrained into our culture.
Marketing works this way. One is supposed to “build a brand”. So, Seth Godin must always think outside the box to get you to “start a ruckus”. Gary Vaynerchuk must always preach about work ethic. Mike Rowe can only advocate for blue-collar jobs.
Listen more carefully, and you may notice that Seth Godin still has a strong buy-in to certain dogmatic traditions. Gary V. occasionally touches on the balance of leisure. And Mike Rowe wouldn’t have the same reach if it weren’t for the white-collar execs who funded his career.
Hitting closer to home, I know of too many people who seem to think that you have to choose between being selfish or a martyr. Newsflash: You can be kind, helpful, loving, and prioritize self-care. You can be wealthy, and generous. You can show compassion and honesty. You can mourn the tragedy of those lost and in danger from the Covid-19 virus, and acknowledge the dangers of shutting down the world’s economy. You can be a good parent, and deny your kids certain experiences in order to nurture your adult relationships and personal development.
Presenting the world in a series of false dichotomies is dangerous. It holds back progress in every way.
Sacrificing your creative outlets and romantic relationship in order to take your kids to every conceivable sporting opportunity is shit parenting. What kind of example is that? Ruining the economy and creating the potential for massive global food shortages, poverty and violence for hundreds of millions of people is not justified by the attempt to reduce infection rates of a disease that has an enormously high recovery rate. Demonizing wealth is a great way to stay poor. And how loving and helpful can a person actually be if they are filled with self-loathing and depression?
The False Dichotomy is not just a logical fallacy that’s frustrating to encounter. It’s a dangerous way of thinking. It leads to all sorts of evil and destruction.
This is more than just attempting to see other perspectives. There are more than two sides to every coin. There’s heads, tails, and the ringed edge between the two. No matter what side is up, the edge is always exposed, yet it’s the “side” that seldom gets noticed. It’s that ever-present edge that binds the two sides to make a coin. No coin could exist without the edge between the face and the back. It’s the truth that remains despite your perspective.
You’ve heard it before; you cannot love another unless you truly love yourself. Yet we are reinforced with praise for sacrifice, duty, and commitment above our own desires. As if suffering is more loving than joy. Misery is noble. I call bullshit. If we want to face reality (and I believe we must if we are to thrive), then we must jettison the habit of the False Dichotomy.
Following your bliss will take work.
Happy and fulfilled parents are a better example for children to follow than the suffering martyr.
Stripping liberties en mass in order to protect people may do more harm than good.
Enjoying balance and leisure doesn’t make one lazy.
Providing useful services can create wealth and be multiplied by it.
Personal development and growth is potentially the most valuable and loving act you can provide to others.
You can disagree with me. You can choose a side, dig in your heels, and argue your perspective. But before you do, I challenge you to ask yourself if your point of view can coexist with another. Can the flip side also be true? Sometimes there really is just black and white, clear lines that can be drawn. But just because this is sometimes true, doesn’t mean it’s always that obvious. I urge you to not allow the False Dichotomy to become habitual. It will ruin you. It might ruin us all.